Grandma Gatewood’s Walk

Grandma Gatewood's Walk (book cover image from Chicago Review Press)
This book is so good I could not put it down.

It’s the story of a woman, alone, in 1955, at age 67, who walked the entire Appalachian Trail.  She was the first woman to do so alone and only the seventh person to thru-hike the 2,050 miles from Mt. Oglethorpe*, Georgia to Mt. Katahdin, Maine.  She went on to become the first person to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) two and then three times.

Grandma Gatewood did not have hiking boots, a backpack or a tent.  She carried a blanket and a shower curtain in a drawstring bag and wore sneakers because her bunions were so bad.  But she loved being outdoors and possessed grit, determination, and a “Don’t Stop” attitude that she passed on to her eleven children.**

When asked why she hiked so far she often said, “Because I thought it would be a lark” and “I like the peacefulness in the woods” and “After the hard life I’ve lived this trail isn’t so bad.”  Author Ben Montgomery reveals for the first time how hard Emma Gatewood’s life really was: married 34 years to an abusive husband, sometimes broke because of his debts, granted a divorce in 1941 because of his abuse.  Yes, the woods are peaceful and the trail isn’t so bad.

Grandma Gatewood’s walk made the Appalachian Trail famous and probably saved it from extinction by disrepair and development.  By now millions have hiked parts of it (myself included) and more than 14,000 have thru-hiked its 2,000+ miles.  Most thru-hikers have heard of Grandma Gatewood and when times get tough they say to themselves, “If she could do it, I can too.”

Emma Rowena Gatewood shows us that what you do with your life matters.  And it’s never too late to start!


(book cover of Grandma Gatewood’s Walk.  Click on the photo to read more and buy the book at Chicago Review Press or buy it here at Amazon.)

*The Appalachian Trail’s southern terminus was moved to Springer Mountain, Georgia in 1958.

**Many of us in Pittsburgh were inspired by one of Grandma Gatewood’s children, Esther Gatewood Allen, who passed away in June 2011 before this book was written.

5 thoughts on “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk

  1. Kate: Three of Grandma Gatewood’s children still live: Rowena-98; Nelson-90; and Lucy-85, the youngest of eleven. Louise-87 died last September, 2013.
    We, Mama’s children, were not amazed at her hiking accomplishments. We grew-up watching her overcome hardships and solving difficult problems. All of us have inherited some of her traits. Especially Esther (perhaps Mama’s favorite) who overcame many hardships and became an expert Naturalist and retired Legal Secretary. I am a Naturalist and still active. However I am now reduced to a trot.
    I say: “Don’t worry about old age. It doesn’t last forever.”
    Thank you very much for your endorsement of “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk”. I wish you much joy and good luck in your life.
    Lucy Gatewood Seeds, St. Johns, Fl.

  2. Her story is indeed amazing. Lucy doesn’t underestimate her mother or her family! I have been honored to spend time with her, Nelson, Louise and Esther and other family members as I work on a PBS documentary about their mother. “Trail Magic” should be completed sometime next year in time for the 60th anniversary on Emma’s hike. You can get more information about the project at

    Let’s all take a hike this spring and remember Emma!

  3. Thanks Kate. Went to Amazon and downloaded sample, read it and ordered for my kindle. I know if I start reading again I won’t put it down until I finish it. What a life she had. Enjoyed reading Lucy Gatewood Seeds comment also. Thanks again

  4. Kate –

    Thanks for the posting about Esther Gatewood Allen’s mom. Esther was such a special person too. Esther has her trail also. It is at the wildflower preserve at Raccoon Creek State Park. Esther loved that place and a lot of us loved hearing Esther talk about her mom.


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